Nothing quite fails like success

This is potentially one of those posts where I make a bunch of enemies. I’m sorry. But please keep reading.

Recently, I’ve had some conventional writing success.  I’ve had a story published in Friend. Follow. Text.: #storiesFromLivingOnline.  I have a play that will be featured in a staged reading in Seattle.  I was selected for a TA position with Sarah Selecky. I joined the editorial board of PRISM International.  Writing-wise, my life as an emerging writer is starting to look like it’s going somewhere…. Kim McCullough even mentioned me on her blog as a writer to watch.  (Anyone hate me yet?)

Okay–it’s not like I was longlisted for the Giller for my debut novel, but it’s nice to be able to create a professional writing bio without having to struggle for filler.

I think, however, that when you are first starting to send out short stories, and building your collection of rejection letters, you always think to yourself that once you break in, things will be easier.  You’ll have planted your foot on that bottom step, and then it’ll just be the next step and the next step, and there you are, somewhere on Easy Street.  Or at least Easier Street.

There is some truth to this.

When you are collecting rejection letters, you resign yourself by saying, well, I guess I’m not good enough.  It’s puzzling as hell, because you obviously thought you were good enough when you sent stuff out, but you convince yourself that you were not, because you have not yet been published, and then you wonder what is wrong with your judgement and taste that you can’t tell if your work is worth publishing.

So when your first piece accepted–it’s a confidence boost.  This time, your judgement was not wrong.  This time, your taste was spot-on.  You now think you have a standard for these things, that as long as every story you write is at least as good as this one story (if not better) you will be fine.  Because you have broken through and made it.

This makes that first rejection after that acceptance extra-crushing.

This time, you know you are good enough. You know you have taste.  You know your judgement isn’t totally off. And you know that this story, this rejected story, was a good one. You have a standard to compare to, and clearly, this one is good enough.

And yet, rejected.  How can it be good enough, and still not yet good enough?

This is where what they say about taste being subjective and publishing being a lot about timing and luck starts sinking in. And perhaps, some of those rejections weren’t because you weren’t good enough, but because you weren’t lucky enough, or you had bad timing, or you just weren’t someone’s taste.  Don’t get me wrong–some of those were because you weren’t good enough. But some of them weren’t.

And so you realize, you haven’t taken the first step to getting on Easy Street, because there is no stairway to Easy Street.  You’re on an escalator, taking one step up while the escalator goes down.  In other words, you start all over again.

So yeah, getting published–it’s a big deal. It changes your confidence in yourself. It gives you something to put in your bio beyond the list of writing classes you’ve taken. It gives your mom something concrete to tell people about your writing.

But other than that, it changes very little. On every story, you begin again.

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4 thoughts on “Nothing quite fails like success

  1. I hear you, Sonal. I, too, thought my days of rejection were over after I’d had a few acceptances. Sigh. Wrong again, it turns out. But acceptance is validation and there is such power in that. And this business is also heart-breakingly subjective. No one tells you how close you came to acceptance when you receive a rejection letter. So…take heart and enjoy the moments when they come!

  2. The first post-acceptance rejection was some time ago, but I was surprised by how much it stung… up until then, I had thought I had developed a thick skin for rejection. But really, I had put a lot of stock into what that first acceptance would mean. And it’s not that it wasn’t meaningful; it’s simply that it didn’t mean what I thought it would.

    Not something they tell you when you first start sending stuff out there… or at least, not something you listen to when you do.

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